Combinatorial Morphology in Visual Languages

  • Neil CohnEmail author
Part of the Studies in Morphology book series (SUMO, volume 4)


Just as structured mappings between phonology and meaning make up the lexicons of spoken languages, structured mappings between graphics and meaning comprise lexical items in visual languages. Such representations may also involve combinatorial meanings that arise from affixing, substituting, or reduplicating bound and self-standing visual morphemes. For example, hearts may float above a head or substitute for eyes to show a person in love, or gears may spin above a head to convey that they are thinking. Here, we explore the ways that such combinatorial morphology operates in visual languages by focusing on the balance of intrinsic and distributional construction of meaning, the variation in semantic reference and productivity, and the empirical work investigating their cross-cultural variation, processing, and acquisition. Altogether, this work draws parallels between the visual and verbal domains that can hopefully inspire future work on visual languages within the linguistic sciences.


Visual language Drawings Visual morphology Metaphor Combinatorial structure 



Kaitlin Pederson and Ryan Taylor are thanked for the brainstorming that contributed to this chapter, and Joost Schilperoord, Ray Jackendoff, and Charles Forceville are thanked for helpful feedback on earlier drafts.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Communication and CognitionTilburg UniversityTilburgThe Netherlands

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